The Divorce Diaries: He Left To Be In An Open Relationship With the 19-year-old He’d Been Having an Affair With

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Welcome to our series, The Divorce Diaries. In the past six instalments we’ve covered everything from the effect of lockdown on divorces to whether they’re contagious and have now spoken to dozens of women – including one who discovered her husband’s affair during lockdown and another who found out her husband had a vasectomy and didn’t tell her – even after they’d been trying for a baby.

This week we talk to a woman who never expected to be divorced at 30 and the stigma she feels about her relationship status – even though, she wasn’t the one who wanted out of the marriage.

It was an off-hand comment by a stranger that made Charlotte* see red.

“How embarrassing would it be to get divorced after only two years,” he said. “Shouldn’t you just pretend a bit, to save face?”

It cut particularly deep, because one of the feelings Charlotte struggled with the most after her short marriage was immense embarrassment.

As that stranger made that throw away comment, Charlotte was on the road to divorce – and her divorce will be as long as her marriage – after her husband left on the eve of their two-year wedding anniversary.

She and her husband Kevin* had been together for 10 years total, since they were just 19. They were now deep into the planning of a dream three-month trip around Europe. They planned to start trying for kids before the year was out.

“Then – boom! – one night, after asking me what I wanted for breakfast the next morning, he suddenly blurted out that he was done,” tells Charlotte. “He said he wanted out as he didn’t love me anymore.”

Charlotte says she had absolutely no clue whatsoever that this was coming – or that there were any serious issues with their relationship. “I was in full hysterics, as my world was crashing around me.”

 It was in that moment that her husband muttered, “Of course you are making this about you.”

“They’re words I’ll never be able to forget,” she says.

And then, came the added clanger.

“He then confessed to having cheated on me for six months with a girl 10 years younger.” The woman was just 19 – the same age she had been when she met her husband.

 As if that wasn’t bad enough – this entire confession came just one month before we went into Level 4 lockdown last year.

Divorce coach Bridgette Jackson of Equal Exes says she works with a lot of clients – both female and male – who are navigating a divorce after an affair has ended their marriage. Unfortunately, a lot of marriages do end because of the involvement of a third party.

“They’re incredibly, incredibly difficult,” she says, often because the former couple are on such different pages.

“I liken it to a running race,” she explains. “So, they’re not the one who has ended it. The person who has ended the relationship, they’ve finished the running race – they’re at the end. Whereas the person who’s just been told that it’s over – they’ve got a whole different set of emotions that they’ve got to deal with – they’re right at the start of the race. They’re still getting their head around it and are often in denial because it’s come as such a shock.”

Brigette says she often recommends some counselling when a betrayal or affair has taken place because there are so many emotions to deal with and work through – om top of the work that is involved in legally splitting.

Fellow divorce coach Kimberlee Sweeney of Degrees of Separation says it’s the double-whammy of the discovery of an affair and the news of a divorce that is heartbreaking to navigate.

“If there has been an affair it’s a huge thing to deal with, because you’re not only dealing with the fact you can’t trust them anymore, but they’re maybe pushing for a divorce at the same time. That’s a lot to deal with at once,” she tells.

She says her job is help those clients to keep putting one foot in front of the other and to make that road ahead less overwhelming for them.

“It’s really about breaking it down into smaller steps for them, so that they can deal with the emotional side of it – because it takes a long time to recover from betrayal.”

She also often involves a therapist or psychologist to help the healing process, while she helps them to start looking toward the future. “Particularly if there are kids involved, my role as a coach is to help them move forward and look at what is best for the family unit as a whole. I put the focus on getting them more stable and financially secure for their own future.”

In the aftermath of the news of her husband’s betrayal, Charlotte found three things were completely essential – asking for help, getting a psychologist and leaning on her friends. She says she leaned on one friend in particular who had been through the same thing a few years earlier.

She also found the lockdown a strange blessing as it gave herself time to come to terms with things and to concentrate on herself.

Which certainly doesn’t mean it was a walk in the park – it was during that time she really had to confront those feelings of shame and embarrassment about what had happened, which does still get inflamed when someone makes a comment about short-lived marriages.

“I feel enough embarrassment myself, without feeling like society thinks that way too,” she tells. “I did not get married with  the expectation that I was going to be going through a divorce only a few years later. I was in the marriage for life, I even fought for him to stay and wanted to work on things. But he had decided he wanted an open  relationship with the girl he had been cheating on me with.”

Charlotte wanted to share her story because she hoped it might help someone who is going through the same situation feel less along and because she thinks we all need to normalise divorce at any age, rather than heaping more shame on women who find themselves young and divorced – often when it was not their choice to have the relationship end.

After all, as we discussed in an earlier instalment of The Divorce Diaries, one of the most common times to divorce is in the thirties.

Charlotte says she still has her bad days, but she can see it was better the relationship ended when it did, rather than even further down the track.

“It was horrific and I am still not fully healed in the sense that I don’t feel ready to let someone new in for fear of history repeating itself. I still have breakdowns, especially when all my friends are now getting married and having kids while I’m suddenly on a very different path. But I would far prefer to be going through the utter hell of the last year than to be oblivious married to a man who is having it off with a 19 year old during the day on his way home to me and potentially a baby.”

If you’d like to share your own experiences, tips or advice (we can keep you anonymous if you’d prefer!) please do email me at [email protected].

Missed an instalment? Catch-up here!
Week one: Women Tell: ‘My Lockdown Betrayal’ ‘He Ended Up With My Pilates Instructor!’ Charting the Rise of Divorce Coaches in NZ
Week two: When Are You Most At Risk of Splitting? Plus, Can Divorces Be Contagious?
Week three: “My Husband Didn’t Tell Me He’d Had a Vasectomy Until A Year Into Trying For a Baby.”
Week four: “Mum’s Reaction Was: ‘Oh Darling, I Kept Telling You to Get Your Grey Roots Dyed!’” What to – and What NOT to Say – After a Split
Week five: “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”
Week six: The Number One Mistake Women Make When Separating

  • *Names have been changed
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